Sunday, November 30, 2014

Yellow Star - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 49

On this 49th out of 52nd week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy.

Yellow Star is a biographical children's novel that is written in free verse. It depicts life through the eyes of a young Jewish girl whose family was forced into the Łódź Ghetto in 1939 during World War II.

The story revolves around the author's aunt (Syvia) who shared her childhood memories with Roy more than 50 years after the ghetto's liberation. The author added fictionalized dialogue, but did not alter the story.

The book covers Syvia's life from age 4 1/2 to 10 years old in the ghetto. Syvia, her older sister Dora, and her younger cousin Isaac were three of only twelve children who survived.

In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland and forced that nation's second-largest community of Jews, 270,000 strong, into one section of the city of Łódź, which they later walled off to form a ghetto. In 1941, thousands of Jews form other countries were also moved into the Łódź ghetto. They came from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Luxembourg.

Before the invasion, Syvia and her family lived in Łódź. After her father heard rumors that Germans were planning to invade, the family traveled by buggy to Warsaw. Unable to find housing or work, the family returned to Lodz.

When the Germans did invade, they forced Łódź-area Jews (including Syvia's family) to relocate into a ghetto - a segregated section of the city.

The book relates Syvia's explanations of what life in the ghetto was like: her friends, people around the ghetto, jobs, and her schedule. It shares how Syvia's family was forced to sell her doll, leaving her with rags and buttons as her playthings.

When the other Jewish children were sent to Chelmno, Syvia's family smuggled the children from cellar to cellar. The adults would provide a distraction so the soldiers attention would be focused elsewhere while children were smuggled from cellar to cellar. As Syvia's father said, "Many people worked together to save [the] children. We are blessed to have such good people around us."

From Syvia's perspective, she said, "This is not what it was like when I played with Hava and Itka. We had energy to have fun, but now that we are children of the cellar, we just lie around or sit propped against a wall and wait for the grown-ups to visit. We all know how to hide, to keep quiet so that the Nazis don't find us."

The book also many tragic events and the way people were treated:
- the average daily food ration per person was about 1,000 calories. The quality of food was very poor. Dirt, ground glass, and other particles were found in the flour, and the only food available was often rotten.
- people did not have any of their pets in the ghetto. They would have been killed for meat.
- in January 1942, the Nazis began deporting people from the Łódź ghetto. They ordered people onto trains, telling them they were needed to work elsewhere. This was a lie. The Nazis had planned their "Final Solution" [building] concentration camps, also called extermination camps.
- in September 1942, the Germans declared a curfew called the Gehsperre (ban on movement). Survivors of this brutal time called it the Sperre. The Sperre's main focus was on children under the age of ten and adults over sixty-five. Parents were reassured that their children were being taken to a better, safer place where they would have food and fresh air; and be watched while the parents are at work. Again, it was a lie. They had gone to the Chelmno extermination camp to die.
- to hide from the Nazis, children and their parents would lay in graves in cemeteries. When danger had passed, the little ones would emerge from behind gravestones and return to their families.
- there were 69 factories in the Łódź ghetto with more than 70,000 workers. Most of the factories produced textiles; and some built munitions.
- by mid-1944, all of the ghettos - except for Łódź - had been destroyed. The Nazis came to Łódź to ask for volunteers to help clean up cities in Germany that had been bombed. The Jews in Łódź were suspicious, but the Nazis made it seem like a legitimate request. So, volunteers lined up at the train station. Soldiers carefully checked their luggage, and apologized for the uncomfortable method of travel. Freight cars, they explained, were the only transportation not being used to fight in the war. By July 15, 1944, 7,175 "volunteers" had taken the trains and were taken to Chelmno extermination camp, where they were killed.
- from August 27-30, 1944, the Nazis ordered the Łódź ghetto to be emptied of people. Over 74,000 residents of Łódź were transported by freight trains to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where crematory ovens burned 24 hours a day. Approximately 1,200 Jews were left behind in the ghetto to clean it up.

When the people remaining at the Łódź ghetto were freed at the end of the war by the Russians, the Russian soldiers brought chocolate for the children. Many had never tasted chocolate before, so it was a welcome addition to being liberated and free.

This is a very sobering book to read since it is told from a child's perspective. The strength and courage these children had throughout their childhood is impressive...and unfathomable. What bravery these young ones - and their families as well - showed through such challenging times is a testament to their character. Yellow Star is definitely a book worth reading for this reason alone.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Screech Owl - Outdoor Hour Challenge

Sophia and Olivia are involved with the Raptor Corps program this year that is sponsored by and held at the Minnesota Raptor Center once a month from October through May (with the exception of December).

When the girls went to their first meeting in October, we saw an Eastern screech owl there. At first it looked like a stuffed animal or toy because it was so small. It wasn' was an adult female screech owl named Mestaae.

Screech owl at the Minnesota Raptor Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
We were surprised at how tiny it was since 
we've seen larger owls that live around our home.

Mestaae was hatched in spring 2008 and was found as a nestling outside of the nest. Unfortunately she was not brought to The Raptor Center quickly enough and became a human-imprinted bird. Due to this, she lost some of her human fear and does not display all the normal screech-owl behaviors that she needs to in order to survive. Therefore she will have to spend the rest of her life in captivity.

She weighs approximately six ounces - about the equivalent of 1 1/2 sticks of butter. Her name is a Cheyenne word for “spirit of the night/owl” and was chosen from over 800 entry suggestions.

We were curious to learn a bit more about Eastern screech owls, so we found information out them from the Minnesota DNR website:

=> This tiny gray or reddish owl can be found throughout southern and central Minnesota.
=> It is named for its surprising call, which can sound like a crying child.
=> It has ear tufts; and big yellow eyes and a yellow beak.
=> Like other owls, the screech owl has eyes that face forward. This gives it depth perception (the kind of vision you have when you look through two eyes instead of one).
=> They are 7 to 10 inches tall.
=> When flying, their wingspan can stretch up to 2 feet across.

Sophia - Arm and Wing Span Comparison
Different types of owls and raptors are shown on this display.
Sophia's arm span is the equivalent of a great gray owl and 
Olivia's is about the width of a red-tailed hawk.
(Taken on May 26, 2012.)

Olivia - Arm and Wing Span Comparison

=> They weigh 7 to 8 ounces.
=> Screech owls nest in a second-hand nest or tree cavity. They are willing to nest in boxes built for them and sometimes nest in wood duck nest boxes.
=> The female incubates the eggs, eating little food during the 26 to 32 days it takes the eggs to hatch.
=> Owlets fledge in about four weeks.
=> Screech owls eat insects, small rodents, small birds, and reptiles. Sometimes they perch, waiting for food, then swoop down when something attracts their attention. They also may walk along the ground or in shallow water looking for insects or other prey.
=> Great-horned owls, hawks, dogs, cats, minks, weasels, skunks, otters, and bobcats have all been known to kill screech owls. Sometimes snakes rob their nests.
=> Screech owls can be found in deciduous (hardwood) forests, lakeshores, and suburbs throughout most of Minnesota.
=> In Minnesota, owls may not be shot, captured, transported, or owned without a permit.
=> Like other owls, one of its ear holes is higher than the other. This helps it identify the source of a sound.

We also took a look at the All About Birds website. There was a section about the Eastern Screech Owl.

Size and Shape
The Eastern Screech-Owl is a short, stocky bird, with a large head and almost no neck. Its wings are rounded; its tail is short and square. Pointed ear tufts are often raised, lending its head a distinctive silhouette.

Screech Owl
We saw this screech owl at 
Warner Nature Center on June 4, 2011.

Color Pattern
Eastern screech owls can be either mostly gray or mostly reddish-brown (rufous). Whatever the overall color, they are patterned with complex bands and spots that give the bird excellent camouflage against tree bark.

Feather from a screech owl.

Eastern Screech-Owls are active at night and are far more often heard than seen. To know what they sound like, we listened to the songs of the screech owl.

This owl is fairly common in most types of woods (evergreen or deciduous; urban or rural), particularly near water. It does not like treeless expanses of plains or mountains.

Nature Journal

Both of the girls did a nature journal entry. Sophia's is here:

and Olivia's is here:

Dissecting an Owl Pellet

For this nature study we didn't dissect an owl pellet since both the girls have done this twice already. However, it was worth revisiting what the girls discovered when they dissected an owl pellet.

First, they pulled away all the fur from the bones in the pellet. We were all surprised at the amount of fur that was in one pellet.

Fur in One Owl Pellet
The fur in one owl pellet.
Take on May 26, 2012.

As the girls were pulling away the fur, we could see little glimpses of bones that were part of the owl pellet.

Inside an Owl Pellet
Inside an owl pellet.

Sophia Dissecting an Owl Pellet
Although tweezers were supplied, 
Sophia found it easier to break apart and 
separate the different parts with her fingers. 
The pellets were all sterilized prior to using them, 
otherwise it would be best to wear gloves and/or use tweezers.

Even though Sophia preferred to use her fingers to dissect the owl pellet, Olivia liked using the tools that were provided.

Olivia Dissecting an Owl Pellet
Olivia using different tools to 
separate the elements in her owl pellet.

By the time that the pellet was completely dissected, there was a wide range of bones that were discovered.

Inside the Pellet Sophia Dissected
All the bones that were in one owl pellet.

Olivia dissected her first owl pellet on September 13, 2007...when she was only 4 years old. She used toothpicks to break apart the pellet.

Olivia with an Owl Pellet
Olivia using toothpicks to dissect the owl pellet.

Interesting Discoveries
Some of the bones that Olivia found in the owl pellet 
that she dissected on September 13, 2007.

To identify the bones found in an owl pellet, there's a free owl pellet bone chart.

OHC Summer Series - #5 Owls were referred to as inspiration.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Highlights from Thanksgiving 2014

Last year we did a Countdown to Thanksgiving. This year, between homeschooling and trying to stay on track with all the subjects; rehearsals twice a week for the Christmas play; music lessons; the homeschool co-op; and volunteering at the nursing home, it seemed like it was just too much to try to take on doing the Countdown to Thanksgiving.

So, the only thing that we did prior to Thanksgiving was that Olivia colored a picture at one of the 4-H meetings for Color-A-Smile. 

Color-A-Smile sends pictures that children have colored and/or drawn and mails them to residents at nursing homes and veterans facilities; people who are homebound; and those who could use some cheering up.

Other than that, we focused preparing a meal and cleaning the home for family members who were joining us for a Thanksgiving meal.

The girls were excited to see their cousins.

They liked having their own table to eat together. The six youngest cousins ate together (those who were 13 years old and under).

The older cousins (15 years old and older) plus the adults ate in the dining room/living room.

It was nice having Thanksgiving up at our home again this year. Last year, because of my mom's health, she wanted to host it at her home. This year, she felt like she was able to make it up to the farm which was great.

There's something about the smell of food cooking throughout the day that makes it feel like Thanksgiving.

One thing we did differently (in addition to not doing the Countdown to Thanksgiving) was hold the dinner earlier in the afternoon so that it was closer to my mom's lunch time. Having regular meals that are on a relatively set schedule is important for her since she's diabetic. That just meant waking up a bit earlier than normal and getting the turkey in the oven a couple hours before I normally do.

It was well worth it, though. It was a nice Thanksgiving...and much more relaxed than in past years.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

We Day - Celebrating Empowerment

Sophia and I (along with Sophia's friend, Amelia) went to We Day earlier this month. It was an inspiring, thought-provoking event just as it had been the prior year. 

The focus this year was on empowerment; and the speakers and projects that We Day/Free the Children were promoting all revolved around that topic.

We arrived early and were seated in the third row from the floor.
Music played while the 18,000 youth and adults 
made their way to their seats.

One of the first speakers was Marilyn Carlson from The Carlson Companies and an author. she talked about the power of one person to make a difference. She shared that Ghandi was only one person who lived a very simple, yet made a tremendous difference throughout the world. He had only five possessions: a staff, glasses, two yards of fabric, sandals, and a pocket watch.

She said that each person should remind her/himself that s/he is on a journey and can make a difference. The ability to impact others' lives is her definition of "powerful."

The Carlson credo is:

Whatever you do, do with integrity.
Wherever you go, go as a leader.
Whomever you serve, serve with caring.
Whenever you dream, dream with your all.
And never, ever give up.

Sophia and Amelia listening to music and 
watching as everyone finds their seats.

Another speaker was Magic Johnson. After sharing an inspirational message, he told everyone that he was donating $1 million to build schools in Africa.

Magic Johnson sharing that he is donating $1 million
to build schools in Africa.

Just thinking about how many schools and lives will be positively impacted by his generosity was inspiring!

There was a speaker named Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when the genocide began in Rwanda.

She and her sister Claire fled across the border to Burundi. According to the United States Holocaust Museum, "They found themselves among a sea of refugees—with no immediate access to shelter, food, or other supplies. While international aid soon improved conditions, they constantly struggled to survive. Because of rumors of continued troubles inside Rwanda, they wandered from refugee camp to refugee camp for six years.

"In 2000, Wamariya and her sister gained asylum in the United States, and they settled in Chicago. A year later, Wamariya learned that her parents had survived the genocide. In 2006, Wamariya won Oprah Winfrey's National High School Essay Contest that asked, "Why is Elie Wiesel's book Night relevant today?" The Oprah Winfrey Show surprised Wamariya and her sister Claire by reuniting them with their family on the show. Wamariya has become an eloquent advocate against genocide today."

There's another more detailed story about Wamariya's life that includes the story she shared at We Day. She spoke about a turning point in her life that was when a relief worker gave her ice water and banana, and how she no longer felt invisible.

"One year of empowerment can make a lifetime of change."

One of the speakers was Spencer West. He does not have legs, yet has done some very remarkable things during his lifetime. He spoke about the power of technology and how it can make a tremendous an positive difference. He shared examples about how technology has enabled him to do things that he didn't think were possible - like driving a car.

Spencer introduced Colonel Eileen Collins who was the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle. She said that when you volunteer, not only do you help your community, but you become stronger and more confident. You become a leader.

Colonel Eileen Collins talking about volunteering and leadership.

One of the We Day/Free the Children staff talked about how seven in every ten children or teens are bullied. That figure was staggering. Even more sobering was when they asked people to stand up if they or someone they knew had been bullied. Almost every person in the audience stood up.

KDWB shared a bit about their Christmas Wish program that has been happening for 15 years. Dave Ryan said that it is "ordinary people helping others out." He talked about social empowerment, and encouraged people to nominate someone who needs help.

The next speakers was the grandson of Nelson Mandala. His name is Kweku Mandela, and he said that the best way to live up to his grandfather's legacy is to give a voice to others. He talked about how many people in Africa are still struggling for the basics - including education. With education, comes empowerment.

Kweku Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, 
speaking about how education is the route to empowerment.

He shared a quote from his grandfather: "Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up."

The Chairman, President, and CEO of Allstate spoke at We Day. Something that stood out that he said was the "The willingness to get involved is the strongest power we have."

A representative from the Bush Foundation and Springboard for the Arts said that " believe you can make things happen...and that makes you all artists." She said that the "...arts give us the tools to communicate."

Ashley Murphy was a young speaker who is HIV+. She was born HIV+, and knows all too well how access to health care can change lives. "We all face challenges...our weaknesses can turn into strengths...and you can overcome them to help others." She encouraged the youth (and adults) to "own your differences and be you."

Another interesting speaker was J.R. Martinez who was injured in Iraq when he was 19 years old. He spent three months in a hospital recovering from his injuries. He said, "I wear my scars proudly and those who love me will accept me as I am."

He continued, "Life with throw adversity at you. Stand up. Surround yourself by positive people and they'll help you realize that you're not a victim."

One of the speakers asked the attendees: "What do you care about? Is it an issue that was presented at We Day or is it one that you feel motivated to address and change?" Each person has "a gift to make this world a better place" whether it's through writing, baking, or being a good listener. The list could go on.

A surprise came in the early afternoon when Colbie Caillat singing "Try." It is such a beautiful song with an important message. After she sang the song she spoke briefly to attendees telling them, "Don't change yourself for anybody!" A very good reminder.

Colbie Caillat singing "Try" at We Day.

We Day/Free the Children focused heavily on empowering women in Kenya by raising $50 which would buy a woman a goat. This, in turn, would not only provide food for her family, but give her the ability to expand her herd, trade livestock for poultry with other farmers, and give her income as she sells some products (e.g., goat milk, eggs) to others in her community. 

A local woman who is from South Africa spoke about looking at challenges as stepping stones. "You can achieve anything you set your mind to," she said.

Martin Sheen gave a powerful presentation about how he viewed his life and activism. He said acting is what he does for a living, and activism is what he does to stay alive. What was interesting - and gave us pause for thought - was a statement he made about how food and shelter separate us, but the need for justice, healing, and mercy unite us.

He said that he learned early on that you serve yourself best when you serve others first.

Sheen continued, "Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all responsible for each other and the world, which is exactly the way it is, because consciously or unconsciously, we have made it so. And while none of us made any of the rules that govern the universe or the human heart, we are all beneficiaries of a divine promise, that the world is still a safe place despite our fears and we in it, are not asked to do great things; we are asked to do all things with great love."

Later in his talk he said, "The Irish tell the story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and he asks to be let in and St. Peter says, 'Of course. Show us your scars.' The man said, 'I have no scars.' St. Peter says, 'What a pity. Was there nothing worth fighting for?'"

Sheen concluded, "However we perceive the purpose of our journey or the route we pursue, at the final twilight, when we must confront the reality of that undiscovered realm from which no traveler returns, the only things we can take with us, are the things which we cherished and gave away with love, including our precious time and talent."

The power of We Day is in the activities leading up to our ability to attend (we volunteer many ways both at the local and global level); having the privilege of listening to powerful and inspiring leaders because of volunteerism and how integrated it is in our lives; and taking the messages back home and turning them into actions that will make a difference.

The X in Sex - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 48

Last week I read a book for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge that I didn't enjoy. Perhaps it's titles that begin with "X" in them because the same was true for this week's book: The X in Sex - How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives by David Bainbridge.

If someone is very interested in human biology and gender, this would be a great book for her/him. However, within a few pages I could tell this book was not one that I would find fascinating.

To the author's credit, he went into great detail about the X chromosome. This would be perfect for someone who enjoys research and an excessive amount of detail.

Like last week's book, I found my mind wandering as I flipped through the pages. I skimmed the first part of the book by page, the middle of the book by chapter, and then simply closed the book after that. The X in Sex was not a valuable use of my time. Other things were needing my attention that I felt were a better use of the limited time I have on earth.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Turkeys - Outdoor Hour Challenge

When we first moved here in 1995, there were no wild turkeys around our farm, down the road, or within five miles of us.

Slowly, as the years passed, the turkeys gradually spread and moved north and slowly west. About five or so years ago, we started noticing that the turkeys were getting closer to us.

By Winter 2013, there was a very large of turkeys that were spending lots of time at the farm next door in the wooded area next to cornfield. They would walk between that area, across the road and into another cornfield, and then continue their journey to their nightly roosting spot.

It has been a joy to see the wild turkeys - especially when they are in large flocks. Even if I don't see them, their tracks indicate that they are around and spending time in the neighborhood.

Wild turkeys
A small group of turkeys looking for food.
You can see the beard on some of the turkeys if you look closely.
Taken on February 5, 2013.

For this nature study, I had scheduled it to be done by November 21st. With preparing for the holidays, and music and theater performances that required lots of practicing at home and church we didn't do this nature study until December.

Nonetheless, it was equally as interesting in December as it would have been a month prior.

First, we read about wild turkeys in The Handbook of Nature Study on pages 138-140. We learned:
=> The bronze breed most closely resembles our native wild turkey.
=> The feathers have a glittering bronze with greenish and purple iridescence, and each feather is tipped with a narrow jet band.
=> There is a tassel of black bristles called the beard which hangs limply downward when the birds are feeding; but when the male stiffens his muscles to strut, this beard is thrust proudly forth.
=> The heads of all are covered with a warty wrinkled skin, bluish white on the crown, grayish blue about the eyes, and the other parts are red.
=> Beneath the throat is a hanging fold called the wattle.
=> Above the beak is a fleshy pointed knob called the caruncle, which on the male is so prolonged that it hangs over and below the beak.
=> When the bird is angry, the carunculated parts swell and grow vivid in color, seeming to be gorged with blood.
=> The eyes are bright, dark hazel with a thin red line of iris.
=> The ear is just behind the eye and very tiny, yet is extremely efficient and can hear the smallest sounds.
=> The legs of the young turkeys are nearly black, fading to a brownish gray when mature.
=> The middle toe of the three front ones is nearly twice the length of the one on either side; the hide toe is the shortest of the four.
=> The spur is a very effective weapon.
=> The wings are large and powerful; and the turkey can fly well for such a large bird.
=> They roost high, choosing trees or the ridgepole of the barn.

Wild turkeys
The turkeys were all lined up in a row. 
There were both males and females in this flock
Taken on February 5, 2013.

I had to laugh at this description of a male turkey because it reminded me of the ones we had here: "The gobbler is the most vainglorious bird known to us; when he struts to show his flock of admiring hens how beautiful he is, he lowers his wings and spreads the stiff primary quills until their tips scrape the ground, lifting meanwhile into a semicircle fan his beautiful tail feathers; he protrudes his chest, and raises the iridescent plumage of his neck like a ruff to make a background against which he throws back his red, white, and blue decorated head."

Wild turkeys
Turkeys in a corn field.
This flock was walking towards its evening roosting spot.
At dusk and daybreak the turkeys could be seen roosting 
in the high branches of trees in a forested area.
Taken on February 5, 2013

The Handbook of Nature Study had even more facts that we found interesting:
=> Turkey hens usually begin to lay in April. She strays off a lone, seeking the most secluded spot she can find to lay the large, oval, brown-speckled eggs.
=> Incubation takes four weeks.
=> Turkey nestlings are rather large, with long, bare legs and scrawny, thin necks. They are very delicate during the first six weeks of their lives.

Wild Turkey - Audubon picture
Drawing by John Audubon.

After we read about turkeys, Sophia and Olivia both did an entry in their nature journals.

Olivia incorporated photographs that were in the newspaper's Outdoor section in November.

Sophia did her own drawing and included facts she found from various sources.

When we were done with the lesson about turkeys, I gave each of the girls a Running List of Mammals that is available on the Handbook of Nature Study website. It looks like a great way to keep track of the mammals that they see during the winter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fra Angelico - Artist/Picture Study

The first artist that we focused on for the 2014-15 homeschool year was Fra Angelico (1395-1455) who was part of the Italian Renaissance period.

Fra Angelico (christened Guido di Pietro) quietly painted for the glory of God. Guido was born in Italy in about 1387. As a youth, he worked on illuminated manuscripts (a vividly-colored text that was hand-painted and lettered).

At the age of 20 years old, he dedicated his life to Christ by entering the Dominican Convent of Fiesole; and become a Dominican monk. It was there that he received the name Fra Angelico which means "the angelic one."

While he was a monk, he painted the walls within convents, monasteries, and churches. When the Dominicans moved to a new building in Florence, Fra Angelico was asked to paint murals to decorate the walls.

One of the things that is to be noted, according to Barry Stebbing in an article he wrote for Homeschooling Today, is "...there is no expression or emotion on [people's] faces. This was the traditional way of painting during earlier centuries in Christian art. This style had b een handed down from one generation to another from as early as the beginning of the Byzantine period (A.D. 313 to A.D. 1453), and Fra Angelico remained true to its simplicity and spiritual purpose."

Stebbing continued, "Fra Angelico only painted when he was asked to do so by the church authorities. Before beginning, he prepared himself with fasting and prayer. It is said that he often wept whenever he painted the crucified Christ. Unlike many artists of his time who painted stories from Greek mythology, Fra Angelico only painted religious subject matter, focusing mainly on the deity of Jesus Christ."

When Fra Angelico died in 1455, he was called beato - or blessed.

For the artist/picture study of Fra Angelico, Sophia and Olivia looked at six paintings by this artist for a period of time; and shared what they remembered about them when they no longer were looking at the paintings.

The Last Judgment

This painting (circa 1431) represents the Last Judgment, executed by Jesus. On the right side, are those condemned to Hell and on the left side it represents the saved ones and the saints. In the center, the opened tombs symbolize the resurrection of the dead.

Sophia Remembered:
=> The picture is split into three different aspects. The top part is the top half. In that part, the background is all white and it looks like it is in water.
=> In the center of that half of the picture there is a big, round oval-like area and the inside has lots of people surrounding it, and surrounding that there is an egg-shape center part which has Jesus sitting in the center almost looking like he's hovering.
=> Still in the white area there is a left and right wing with two rows on each side with people - like saints and kings and angels, and they have sort of a halo around them.
=> On the lower part of the inner egg-shaped part there are two angels that are leaning down holding trumpets.
=> Jesus has a sort of golden glow around him. You can't see his face that well, but he's not smiling or  grimacing - he's sort of neutral.
=> On the bottom half, on the left-hand side there people who are dancing and wearing bright clothes. They look like they are praying to Jesus.
=> In the background you can see a bit of what might be a castle, but you can't see too much of it.
=> On the right hand side the people are cowering away from Jesus and have weapons - guns and knives - and are pointing it at the upper section. The area around them is brown, dead, and generally unappealing.
=> Behind them and to the right there are circles in the ground with people inside of them - sort of like tombs. There are also dead people on the ground. Generally everything is dark and gloomy on that side.
=> But on the other side, everything is green, flowers are blooming, and everything is bright and happy.
=> In the center, in between the left and right bottom part of the picture, leading up to the white section, is a white walkway and cut into the walkway are many square-shaped holes that run up and down the walkway.
=> At the very front of the picture on the walkway is a box that appears to be a coffin with its lid slightly cracked.

Olivia Remembered:
=> At the top there are these wings. On the two wings there are people on both sides, and in the center there is a person.
=> To the right of the picture, there looks like a battle going on.
=> To the left, there are happy people who are dancing. They look like they are celebrating something.
=> The main colors of the picture are red, blue, and white.
=> To the left, there looks like there is a castle.
=> To the far right, there looks like people who are dead.
=> In the middle of the picture, there is a stone walkway and on it is a box that is open.
=> There are lots of people in the picture.
=> The mood is both happy and sad.


Transfiguration of Christ, 1437-1446 Museo di San Marco, Florence

Sophia Remembered:
=> The picture is shaped like an egg with a flat side (the flat side is the bottom).
=> There is an outcropping of rocks and they're white and jagged.
=> The background is all golden and warm and glowy.
=> On the rock is an egg-shaped glow that is taller than a man. In front of that is a man wearing a white robe with arms out-stretched. He has a beard and shoulder-length hair that is a tannish-brown color.
=> There are seven people below him on the rock.  Three of the six men are in front of Jesus, and are cowering down on the ground away from his bright light.
=> Then there are two other men with beards and they are back to the side of the picture. You can only see their heads so they look like headless things floating besides Jesus.
=> Between the men who are cowering and the men who are body-less, there are two more people. On the right there is a man and he appears to be a Friar because the top of his head is bald, but he has a ring of hair around his head. He has his hands clasped in prayer.
=> On the other side of the picture is a woman with a shawl over her head and she's looking at Jesus Christ solemnly.
=> Jesus is looking down on the men who are cowering with a look like he's giving them a test - like, can you withstand my brightness or glory?
=> The colors that she used in the picture are sort of pastel and around Jesus' head there is a halo except there is a red streak going up and to the sides.

Olivia Remembered:
=> There are people in it: Jesus and Mary (I think). One is a saint, I think. I don't know the other people.
=> Jesus is standing on a big, flat, grayish-yellowish-whiteish rock.
=> There is a big sun - but it looks like a big yellowish-whiteish egg.
=> The colors in the picture: brown, dark brown that looks like red, brown, white, gray, yellow, gold, and dark gold.
=> Two people are kneeling on the ground and wearing the brownish-reddish robes.
=> The people have these weird gold thingies on their head. Not halos. People don't wear them these days.
=> The background is a yellowish-goldish color with a gray trim around it.
=> Jesus is wearing a white robe and has a brown beard and hair. He has long hair - a little past his shoulders, but not much.


The Madonna with Saints, 1438-1443 San Marco Museum, Florence

Sophia Remembered:
=> The backgorund of the picture is a sky which appears to be dark blue. Below the dark blue sky is what appears to be a setting sun because it's a pale pink. But you can't see the sun because there are evergreens in front of where the sun.
=> On either side of the picture, there appears to be drapes that protrude a little bit into the picture.
=> Attached to the drapes are two garlands of what looks like apples that are strung up behind the throne.
=> A little bit in front of and on the ground is a platform that has a chair built into it...a throne, really.
=> You have to step down from the throne to get to the platform; and if you step down one more step there's a picture that's leaning against the top step. In the picture, Jesus is hanging from the cross with two people on either side.
=> On the left hand side of the throne, there are people who are more brightly dressed. On the right hand side, they aren't dressed as brightly. They appear to be priests and holy men.
=> At the moment, there are two people in front of the throne. One man has what appears to be cloth in front of his hands like a gift. The other man has his back to us, but he is appearing to be holding a cap in his hands as he faces the throne. Those two are the most brightly-dressed people.
=> Sitting on the throne is a woman and a baby. The woman who appears to be Mary is holding who appears to be baby Jesus.
=> The colors in the picture are subdued. They still are bright, but not as bright in real life.
=> No one is really smiling in this picture. They seem to be paying homage to the Lord's son because they have gifts in their hands.

Olivia Remembered:
=> In the picture there is a big group people wearing robes
=> In the background there is a bunch of pine trees and the setting sun in the night sky
=> There is a wall in front of the pine trees that looks very nicely done with black decorations and black stones.
=> On the stone wall, there are two torches that are spitting out fire.
=> There's a big chair wall thing that is hollow on the inside - it's a stone chair.
=> There are two people sitting on the chair - a mother and a baby. The baby does not have any clothes on. The mother has a red dress on with a blue cape or cloak.
=> The ground appears to be covered in a carpet or rug with scenes on it - like pictures.
=> On the right side there are a bunch of people with brightly-colored outfits, like red and blue. On the other side, there are two people wearing brightly-colored clothes and the other half are wearing black robes with white.
=> There are two people who are kind of in front of the throne. One of them is facing the front of the picture and is holding a silk piece of cloth and the other person is facing it (so you can see the person's back) and appears to be holding a box.
=> The people are the halo things. One of the people in the picture that is looking sideways is wearing black and what appears to be a bubble on his head.
=> In front of it, there is a picture on the ground with Jesus on the cross.


The Deposition from the Cross, 1443

This painting portrays Christ supported by several people, with Mary Magdalene keeping his feet, as a symbol of human repention. (Repention is to change mind or attitude against God.) A figure on the right, with a red hat, is showing the cross' nails and the horns crown, symbols of passion and sacrifice. Mary, wearing a dark dress, is showed in the traditional gesture of keeping hands joined.

Sophia Remembered:
=> In the picture, it looks almost like you could close it in on itself  and wear it - like a locket.
=> There are bunch of people and they are drawn around a man who is being taken down from a cross, and some of the people are praying and some of them have halos around their heads.
=> There is a priest whose is kind of standing over Jesus. He has a black hat.
=> In the background there are trees of a dull olive green color.
=> At the front of the picture on the side where you would close the locket there are two golden pillars.
=> The background has the countryside and at the top it has been cut out to look like the three tines of a crown.
=> All of the picture has a little bit of gold in it. The back part, the columns, the edges.
=> The picture doesn't have a lot of very bright colors, but there is some red.
=> The picture has sort of a matte's not glossy or shiny. However, the gold in the picture does have some gloss.
=> The women are wearing dresses with head coverings and are a variety of colors.

Olivia Remembered:
=> The picture sort of resembles the death of Jesus and the rebirth of him.
=> At the bottom or the main section of the picture, you can see a bunch of people. Four of them are putting Jesus on the cross.
=> The three triangles at the top of the picture kind of reminds me of top of a throne.
=> The colors in the picture are red, blue, brown, gold, black, and a darkish-brownish-greenish color for the trees.
=> In the sky there are six angels. They seem to be talking with the angel in the middle of them.
=> The ground appears to made from black stones or flowers or coals. I'm thinking it's coals, though.
=> To the left, there is a city or town.
=> To the right, there is a big mountain or hill.
=> The people were wearing robes which were blue and red and maybe white and black.
=> Jesus was wearing a white thing around his waist - whatever that is - and that is about it. His hair is brown and you can't really see his face because he's dead.
=> To the right there were white clouds and to the left towards the city there were gray clouds - like smoke.



I found Fra Angelico's The Annunciation and Life of the Virgin. It was painted in 1426 and is tempera on wood. It is at the Museo del Prado, Madrid. The three figures to the left of the painting represent Adam and Eve being escorted out of the Garden of Eden by an angel.

As Sophia began describing the picture to me, I realized she was looking at a different picture. She showed it to me, and sure enough...the painting was a different one. The one that Sophia and Olivia was looking at was Fra Angelico's The Annunciation that was done between 1438-47 as a fresco at the Convent of San Marco in Florence.

So, we stuck with the fresco that the girls had been looking at, and they shared what they remembered about it.

Sophia Remembered:
=> In the picture there are two females. One of them is sitting on a brown stool and she is bent slightly forward. She has a delicate face with a slight tinge of pink to her cheeks. The lady has blondish-orangeish hair with a red band around the top of her head. Her hair is short and doesn't fall past her shoulders. She has a golden halo around her head and is wearing a white dress with a red neckline, and blue shawl/blanket around her shoulders and on part of her lap. The blanket is a dark blue and the underside is golden. Her arms are crossed in front of her - almost like she's holding a baby, but she's not.
=> She's facing another lady who has blonde hair with a bit of gold in it and a halo. Her hair is slightly more curly around the edges, and she's wearing a pink dress with sleeves almost down to her wrist and gold embroidery at the neck of her dress and across the chest. The dress is about the shade of a pink rose, and the waist is like a Greek tunic style. The dress falls all the way to the floor. There's also gold embroidery at the floor - a few inches above the hem.
=> She also has a pair of wings...not angel wings... more like falcon/fast-flying wings. The wings are thin but sharp looking.
=> There are lots of different colors and patterns on her wings. There is red, gold, dark blue, blue...a wide variety.
=> The colors go from red and gold and yellow to darker colors at the end.
=> She has one foot forward and is slightly leaning on it, almost in a bow.
=> They are in a room that opens out onto a lawn and the entire room has archways that lead out. So, it is almost like being in a courtyard, but with a roof.
=> At the far end of the room, there is a door cut into the stone. Through the door you can see a a really tiny square window.
=> The outer walls are white but with a distinctive pinkish hue. The inside and part of the roof are more of a golden hue.
=> The walls, roofs, and column seem to be made out of something made from marble or granite. It's not new because there are cracks in it.
=> You can only see a little bit outside, but the part you can see there's a green lawn, a tall wooden fence, and beyond the fence are lots of tall, green trees.
=> There is plenty of light in the picture. It's not dull and dreary.
=> The pillars aren't very tall...probably a person's height and then it goes into the door.
=> At the top of the columns where they connect with the arch, there's a black line running around the inside of the columns. It's low enough that if one of the ladies stood up, they could touch it with the top of their heads. It's very weird.
=> The grass is a dark green. But it doesn't look like grass. It looks like carpet, partially because it looks like it is flat and has a pattern in it.

Olivia Remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a building with lots of arches and columns. It kind of looks like the Coliseum.
=> There are two people in the building. One of them is sitting on a stool and her arms are kind of folded.
=> She is wearing a white dress with a dark navy blue cloak.
=> She has a halo, so she is probably an angel, but she doesn't have wings.
=> The other woman has a pinkish-reddish dress with gold designs on it. She has a pair of wings that look like the wings of a falcon.  They are pointy at the end and are sharp looking at the top.
=> The colors in the wings are a very dark blue, with a sky blue (maybe slightly darker). There is kind of an orange and yellow in the picture.
=> Outside of the building there is a fence.
=> The ground looks like it is made out of flowers.
=> The building looks like it is made out of marble with cracks in it.
=> The picture was set during nighttime so there is a candle on the ground by the door.
=> Through the door you can see a little square window.
=> There are lots of shadows - especially around the ceiling.
=> The columns are fancy at the top (not like the Greek columns that you see in temples - like the Temple of Athena...the Parthenon).
=> Behind the fence you can see trees that don't look like trees and big, tall shrubs.


Adoration of the Magi, 1445

Sophia Remembered:
=> In the round picture, there is a bunch of people who are coming from both sides of the picture. They are all coming down to see one person.
=> The person that they are coming to see is a naked baby who has blonde hair and is sitting in Mary's lap.
=> Mary has strawberry-blonde hair, but it looks like she has a boy-cut, and she has a halo around her head.
=> Mary is wearing a pink dress with a little bit of white around the collar.
=> She has purplish-blue robe over her dress with gold at the edge.
=> Next to her is Joseph. He has a brownish beard and a blue cloth over his head.  It is covering his hair.
=> He has a shirt that is the same color as his head piece, and orange fabric around his shoulders and waist.
=> He has his left hand holding onto his orange wrap and his right hand up in a stop sign, but his fingers are curved in a bit.
=> His head is slightly turned down and he appears to be looking at the ground.
=> Behind him is a long line of people who are coming down from higher ground to see his son.
=> In front of Jesus there are people who are kneeling who are looking at him with awe and adoration.
=> There are many types of people who are coming to see him. Some have fancy dresses and jewelry. Others have merchants clothes, and others have clothes that have holes and patches in them.
=> There was a lot of orange and red in this picture. It's very distracting to the eyes.
=> Behind Mary and Jesus there is a barn. Because the barn is set on part of a hill, it is higher than where Mary and Jesus are sitting.
=> The barn has crumbling stone walls and a thatched roof. Because it is three-sided, it doesn't look very warm.
=> The front of the barn is slightly slanted because it is set on the hill.
=> Inside the barn there is a donkey that is eating out of a trough. Next to the donkey is a brownish-reddish cow that is laying down.
=> Further inside the barn are horses that appear to be being saddled by their riders.
=> To the right of the barn are the ruins of a big white structure. On the ruins are people who are wearing nothing but white cloths that are looking down upon the people who are coming to see Jesus.
=> Connected to the ruins of the white house is an archway that is above some of the people traveling to see Jesus.
=> On the side of the roof of the barn there is a peacock. It seems large next to the barn, but it is very pretty.
=> There is another bird that is flying down, but it is not a peacock. I think it is a pheasant or a quail.
=> On the left hand side of the picture, there appears to be a little patch of dark trees and shrubs. It seems dark and ominous compared to the rest of the picture.
=> Behind the white structure and barn, there is a couple of big rocks that are laying on the hill.
=> The atmosphere of the photo is cheerful and bright. But at the same time, not a lot of people are smiling.
=> Some of the people who are coming to see Jesus are riding horses.

Olivia Remembered:
=> There is a big giant mountain-like hill. Below it there is a barn, and behind the barn are buildings.
=> There are thousands of people in the picture coming from the top of the hill and beside it.
=> In the barn there is a donkey that is eating from a manger. Beside the manger, there is a cow that looks like a flaming cow because it is a reddish orange color.
=> Behind the donkey there are horses which have or are getting their saddles on; and there are horseshoes.
=> The colors in the picture are green, blue, red, brown, white, and a light tan - like the color of a person's skin.
=> Mary is holding a baby which is naked.
=> Besides Mary is Joseph who has a halo around his head. His is gold. Mary and Jesus have halos too. Jesus' halo is gold and's not like a normal halo which is gold.
=> There are people surrounding Mary, Joseph, and Mary. They have very nice clothes and are giving gifts.
=> On the side of the people who are giving gifts is a dog. The dog is a dark brown and is staring at nothing.
=> On top of the barn there is a peacock. It doesn't look like a peacock, though, because it isn't a bright blue.
=> Also, there is another bird that I'm 100 percent sure is a pheasant.
=> To the left of the barn there are the ruins of a big, white building.
=> On these two big stone marble blocks there are five people who don't have normal clothes. They just have white cloths around their waists.
=> The ground appears to be black stones with little stones too.
=> There are a couple of trees in the picture, but not many.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Xanadu Adventure - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 47

Going through the alphabet this year as a way to do the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge has yielded some interesting books. This week, The Xanadu Adventure by Lloyd Alexander, was not one of them.

There are very few books that begin with the letter "X" (minus the words "a," "an," and "the"). Needless to say, I picked what I thought was a book that looked somewhat interesting. I was wrong. This was surprising because Lloyd Alexander is a Newbery Medal winner, so I expected a more engaging story. 

Basically, the main character (Vesper Holly) and her friends are excited to be sailing off to the newly-discovered archaeological site of Troy. Before they reach Troy, she and her friends are tricked and imprisoned in a palace called Xanadu.

Xanadu's master is Dr. Helvitius - Vesper's arch-enemy. His goal is to dominate the world, and the first step to doing that is destroying Vesper. She has thwarted him often, and each time he ramps up his efforts to get rid of her. 

Perhaps part of the challenge in reaching this book is that these characters have been introduced in other books, so this one builds upon other experiences that they have had. Reading The Xanadu Adventure was liking walking into an event where everyone knew what was going on - except for one person. In this case, the reader who had not read any books with Vesper Holly in them.

I ended up skimming most of the book and then giving up towards the end. I just could not identify or be interested in the characters or plot line. It was better to end the book prematurely than dragging out something that was miserable to read. There were other things that were deserving of my time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pigeons - Outdoor Hour Challenge

Since we live in a rural area, the only time we see pigeons is if we are in a city. It seems like they tend to congregate in more populated areas in Minnesota. Even though they aren't a bird we regularly see, it still is worth learning about them when we do see them.

So, we read pages 50-53 in The Handbook of Nature Study about pigeons. There was a lot of interesting information including the following things that we learned:
=> All of the domestic varieties of pigeons have been developed from the Rock pigeon, a wild species common in Europe and Asia.
=> The carrier pigeon was developed because of its usefulness; its love and devotion to its mate and young; and its homesickness when separated from them.
=> When a knight started off on a Crusade or to other wars, he took with him several pigeons from the home cote; and after riding many days he wrote a letter and tied it to the neck or under the wing of one of his birds, which he then set free, and it flew home with its message; later he would set free another in like manner. The drawback to this correspondence was that it went only in one direction. No bird from home brought messages of cheer to the wandering knight.
=> They are the only bird which can drink like a horse, that is, with the head lowered.
=> The walk of a pigeon is accompanied by a nodding as if the head were in some way attached to the feet.
=> When the bird walks, it sends waves of iridescent colors over the bird's plumage. 
=> Both parents share the labors of incubating the eggs.
=> Rats, mice, weasels, and hawks are the chief enemies of the pigeons.
=> Since pigeons cannot fight, their only safety lies in flight.

Facts about pigeons from the All About Birds website

Size & Shape
Larger and plumper than a mourning dove, rock pigeons are tubby birds with small heads and short legs. Their wings are broad and pointed; and the tail is rounded and wide.

In lieu of a current picture of pigeons to show their size, here's one from Japan taken in November 2003.

The pigeons flew up and landed on me.
I'm holding Olivia - who is about 10 months old -
she didn't seem bothered by them.
Maybe it's because they were on her back and 
not near her face.

We were visiting a temple and there was a huge number of pigeons. They would fly up onto people and make themselves quite comfortable. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. If I recall the experience correctly, people were feeding the birds and that's why they were so unafraid of humans.

Color Pattern
Variable in color, but most birds are bluish gray with a black tip on the tail. Most birds have iridescent throat feathers. Wing patterns may include two bars, dark spots, or can be plain.

Pigeons often gather in flocks; and generally run or walk on the ground as they peck for food. When alarmed, the flock may suddenly fly into the air and circle several times before coming down again.

Pigeons tend to congregate in cities and towns. They also can be seen in farmland and fields; and on rocky cliffs.

Intriguing Facts

Pigeons can find their way home, even if released from a distant location blindfolded. They can navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic fields; and by using sound and smell. They can also use cues based on the position of the sun.

Egyptian hieroglyphics and Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets show that pigeons were domesticated more than 5,000 years ago. The birds have such a long history with humans that it's impossible to tell where the species' original range was located.

Pigeons depicted in Egypt.

Rock Pigeons carried messages for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I and II, saving lives and providing vital strategic information.

Pigeons eat seeds and fruits. Pigeons also readily eat food intentionally or unintentionally left by people, including bread crumbs and littered food.

Birdseed Treats in Tins
Birdseed with gelatin hardening in muffin tins.
(Taken on December 18, 2010.)

The clutch size is 1-3 white eggs; and pigeons can have anywhere from 1-6 broods per year. The incubation period is 18 days and nestling period is 25-32 days.

Nest Description
During nest building, the female sits on the nest and makes a flimsy platform of stems, straw, and sticks from materials brought to her one at a time by the male. Pigeons reuse their nests many times, and they don't carry away the feces of their nestlings the way many birds do. This means that over time the lightweight nest grows into a sturdy mound resembling a pot, and sometimes has unhatched eggs and mummies of dead nestlings.

Lots of Ants
Straw and other lots of ants.
(Taken on June 8, 2009.)

Males often choose the nest site;and then sit and coo to attract a mate. The site is a cranny, nook, or ledge on either cliffs or human-made structures, often beneath an overhang or eaves. Pigeons may nest in stairwells, in rooms of abandoned buildings, or rain gutters.

The pigeon has different songs. To hear them, go here: Pigeon Songs

Backyard Tips

To attract pigeons, provide open areas where the birds can easily find food. Note that seed on the ground can attract rodents, so it’s best to provide only as much food as the pigeons can eat during their visit. Alternatively, offer grain (e.g., dried corn, peas, sorghum) on a platform feeder.

Outdoor Time

We had scheduled this nature study to be done by November 14th. However, with music lessons, play rehearsals, practicing at home for performances on top of homeschooling - we didn't do the nature study during the week scheduled.

As I looked back on photographs during that time period, there isn't one that I took of time we spent outdoors. Although there wasn't snow on the ground, it was quite chilly for November and we weren't ready for it. We ended up staying indoors with the exception of taking care of the horses and the girls swinging on their swings in the backyard.

Nature Journals

The girls each did a page in their nature journals about pigeons. Sophia's nature journal looks like this:

and Olivia's page about pigeons in her nature journal looks like this: